Williams: Church must break its silence (sometimes)

By Jonathan Bartley
December 1, 2009

I was somewhat surprised to read that the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out about "the problems that emerge through keeping silent on issues surrounding HIV and and the importance of the Church’s role in breaking this silence" (Source: Diocese of London website).

That's a very important message indeed, but would carry a lot more weight if he wasn't apparently doing the exact opposite and maintaining the Church's own silence over the Ugandan Anti-Homosexual Bill.

The Bill, which would introduce harsh penalties including extending the death sentence for gay people, has been clearly linked by its proposers and supporters to the spread of HIV in the country. Yet Lambeth Palace has kept entirely silent despite calls from Christians in Uganda and around the world to speak out.

William's message for World Aids Day comes in the form of a video, in which he speaks with the Revd Patricia Sawo, a church leader and mother from Kenya, about her experiences of living with HIV.

The video highlights the plight of expectant mothers who are HIV positive and the support they need to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies.

Revd Sawo, a mother herself living with HIV who is also the HIV Ambassador for Tearfund, gives the example of her own church: "My congregation knows about my status and people in my church know that this is a place where, if they come with HIV, they can be loved."

The Revd Sawo calls for the eradication of the stigma and denial associated with the condition: “The things we are silent about, the things we never talk about - they are the things that really affect us”.

In the video the Archbishop says that the Church can: “Provide space for people to face themselves, to be themselves, and to cope with their future.”

According to the United Nations, there are 2.1 million children (0-15 years) living with HIV. In 2008, 430,000 children were newly infected with HIV, 90% of them through mother-to-child transmission. In low and middle income countries, only 45% of mothers living with HIV can access comprehensive services to help protect their babies from infection.

This is clearly a crucial message, which makes it all the more tragic that the Archbishop of Canterbury is undermining it with his apparent double standards. It does beg the question why, he couldn't at least do a similar video talking to a gay person from Uganda about their own situation?

The video is available here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmB7SqxuAR0

You can sign a petition (along with almost 2,000 other people so far from around the world, including many clergy and priests) urging the Archbishop of Canterbury to break his own silence over Uganda here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Uganda_Christians/index.html

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